Video games can help when you feel anxious

When you’re in the grips of serious anxiety, you may want to address your anxiety in a holistic way that will help you move forward and heal. More immediately, you probably just want it to stop. The physiological effects of anxiety can make it difficult to work on long-term solutions; getting past them can be a good first step.

Writing for Huffington Post, Dr. Meghan Walker proposes a solution that many of us probably reach for naturally during times of anxiety: video games.

Not only was the study successful, it showed that video games were in fact more successful at managing anxiety than the best available medications. The reason for this phenomenon is due to an effect called cognitive absorption. By focusing, intensely on something other than the impending surgery, patients avoided becoming upset or panicked.

Anxiety, like pain or cravings, works on the spotlight theory of attention — the more we focus on the problem, the worse it gets. Anxious thoughts fuel or perpetuate the physiological process and usually push the anxiety response from a place of assistance (think exam preparation) to a state of worry. Fear is a response to something that is actually going wrong (an important adaptive mechanism) whereas anxiety is a response to something that could go wrong. Video games were useful because they distracted the brain sufficiently that it shifted the spotlight and quelled the perpetuation of worry. In essence, the brain had better things to do than focus on potential (not real) outcomes.

For me, it helps to find a game that’s active enough to be distracting while not being so active that it feeds into any feelings of stress. Puzzle games are my preference. If I’m in a situation where having shiny flashy things on my screen would be a problem, I read romance novels instead. Knowing the characters will get their happily ever afters eventually makes me less worried about the outcome. What matters is finding something that works.

Do you play games to cope with anxiety? We’d love to hear what works for you on Twitter or Facebook.

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